Published May 23, 2009Descending the stairs to Ohad Benchetrit's basement studio at his lovely home in Toronto's Cabbagetown, it seems improbable that truly important records were created within these modest confines. A narrow hallway serves as a live room, while an adjacent sauna has been disabled and stuffed full of equipment. Benchetrit's control room is cosy but loaded with neatly arranged vintage keyboards, a Moog synth, guitars, a saxophone, an input rack, and a couple of computer monitors, glowing with Pro Tools .wav files. It's all a testament to an artistically inclined sound engineer who has taken every one of his formal lessons to heart, making something all his own.
"I don't ever have to think about this being a commercial studio and living up to those standards," Benchetrit says, quietly pondering his domain. "I want people to be happy; I don't want anyone coming here to be wanting or to think the sound of their record would've been better done somewhere else. The idea's not to be a sub-par version of a professional studio but at the same time, I want to have an environment that I feel comfortable working in and yields the results I want, and I think I get that."
A multi-talented threat, Ohad Benchetrit is a gifted musician who plays myriad instruments in the hugely influential instrumental ensemble Do Make Say Think; is a key peripheral member of Broken Social Scene; and has just emerged with an excellent ambient music project called Years. Thoughtful and focused, he's been immersed in music-making most of his life, studying guitar seriously in his mid-teens before pursuing post-secondary school audio engineering courses and wrangling post-production work at a facility now known as Technicolor.
"When I started there, it was the time of the ADAT and D88 machines and Sony 48-tracks, which were the digital machines back then," he recalls. "Pro Tools was like version three, so I got to work with it very early. I was still using a Studer two-inch tape machine though and their gear closets were just insane; you didn't get better than that really."
While it's clear that Benchetrit considers himself a musician first, even in high school his interest in sounds drew him to the recording process. Playing in a thrash-metal band called Dead Lemmings with fellow Do Makes Charles Spearin and Dave Mitchell, Benchetrit soon got into jazz and washed-out noise bands like Spiritualized, trading in blistering scales for textures and effects pedals. After this sonic epiphany, Benchetrit enrolled at the Harris Institute of the Arts in Toronto. There, by immersing himself in different aspects of studio work and engineering part of the first DMST record on his own, his perspective on recording changed forever.
"My basic philosophy is that engineering can play such a massive part in the way a record sounds, especially when you're doing an ambient or instrumental record where the whole thing is about finding tones and character," he explains. "You're always looking for something unique and an engineer plays a huge role in that. So, I look at it like, giving the job to an engineer is kind of like being a painter and having someone else choose your colours and telling you when to use them. That's something I wanted to be in control over."
When his touring schedule in DMST and BSS heated up in 2003, Benchetrit left his full-time studio gig and began building his own home set-up. Though he's since overseen records by Kevin Drew, Lullabye Arkestra, the Hidden Cameras, Raising the Fawn, and the Happiness Project in his basement, Benchetrit views the space as a gathering for friends more than a professional pursuit. That said, he's amassed some impressive gear. For mics, he's got Soundelux, Neumanns, and an assortment of tube and large condesners mics. He runs an IBIS high-quality EQ through an Apogee converter and his software platform of choice is Pro Tools. "Whatever you get your hands on though, they're all good," he reasons. "The gear shouldn't enter the equation beyond the beginning. It's like learning a language; you develop it at first but once you start writing poetry, you don't want to be thinking about how you spell certain words. You just want to start talking, y'know?"
With a Lullaybe Arkestra record completed and more recording with DMST, BSS, and Years in the offing, Benchetrit has a busy summer ahead. And through it all, he expects to constantly be improving his craft. "I heard somewhere that to become an expert at anything, you need 10,000 hours. To this day, I still feel like I'm learning new things all the time and applying old techniques with new ones. It's just ongoing. There's no end goal; you just have to keep applying things to your next project."